The cambered bar bench press is an advanced bench press variation that can increase your bench press by fine-tuning your bar path and strengthening your stabilizers.
So, what is the cambered bar bench press? The cambered bench press is a specialty bar that lets the plates hang 14 inches lower than normal compared with a traditional barbell. A cambered bench press bar will force your stabilizing muscle groups (serratus, rotator cuff, pec minor) to work a lot harder as the barbell is more difficult to control.
Before performing this exercise, it’s critical that you know the key points of using the cambered bar. Since there’s significantly less stability with the cambered bar bench press, your risk of injury is elevated. Rest assured, I’ll cover everything you need to know about the cambered bar bench press, including the benefits and how to perform it.
If you’re interested in buying a cambered bar for bench press, I’d suggest that you buy from Rogue. Their products are made in America, they have a solid guarantee, and their product quality is top-notch. Here’s their cambered bench bar (click for today’s price on Rogue Fitness).
Key Differences: Cambered Bar Bench Press vs Regular Bench Press
The key difference with the cambered bar bench press is the barbell design, which creates greater instability compared with a regular bench press bar.
With a regular bench press, the weight plates are at the same level as the lifter’s hands when they grip the barbell.
However, the cambered bar bench press operates differently. It has the lifter hold the upper part of the barbell throughout the exercise, but the weight plates are loaded on sleeves that are about 14 inches lower.
This design allows the plates to be more likely to swing forward and backward, making the exercise much less stable than a regular bench press.
Because of this, the cambered bar bench press is considered a bench press variation that requires:
• Greater technique proficiency
• Higher amounts of chest, shoulder, and tricep strength
• Advanced coordination and body awareness
The Cambered Bar is just one type of bar you can use for bench press. Check out my complete guide on the 7 Different Types Of Bench Press Bars & Their Uses.
Who Is Cambered Bar Bench Press For?
Let me get straight to the point: I do NOT recommend that beginners perform this exercise.
In fact, I don’t think that novice lifters should even consider trying the cambered bar bench press until they’ve mastered the fundamentals of the straight bar bench press.
Additional experience with the paused bench press, tempo variations, and alternate grips (like the close-grip or reverse grip bench press) should also come before attempting to do the cambered bar bench press.
If you’re still mastering the basics, don’t feel ashamed in the slightest — we’ve all been there, too. The main reason to avoid this bar, for now, is that the instability it creates might actually interfere with your technique development for the straight bar bench press.
For now, focus on building that skill, and then you can add a layer of “complexity” with special barbells like the cambered bar.
That said, intermediates and advanced level lifters have the potential to get serious benefit from the cambered bar bench press. Specifically, this comes in the form of improved bar path mechanics, greater technique awareness, and enhanced stabilizer muscle activity.
You can also perform several squat variations with the cambered bar. Check out my complete guide on the Cambered Bar Squat.
Cambered Bar Bench Press: Muscles Worked
The muscles used in the cambered bar bench press are the:
• Pectoralis major and minor (chest muscles)
• Front deltoid (shoulder muscles)
• Triceps (back arm muscles)
• Wrist Extensors (forearm muscles)
Due to the similar grip, movement pattern, and range of motion, the cambered bar bench press uses comparable muscles as those in the traditional bench press. However, some are recruited slightly more when using this specialty barbell.
If you want to get the full breakdown of all the muscles used in the bench press, don’t miss my full guide — check it out here.
In the cambered bar bench press, the main muscle groups that move the barbell are the pectoralis major and minor.
These muscle groups are responsible for shoulder flexion (the motion of pushing the barbell up and back). Since this is the primary action, they produce the bulk of the work during this exercise.
Compared to the straight bar bench press, their activity might increase slightly because of the added instability of the cambered bar.
The front deltoid is the only one out of all three shoulder muscles that are significantly recruited during the cambered bar bench press.
This muscle group also performs shoulder flexion (bringing your upper arm forward of your body). Being the main action with this bench press version, it’s highly active throughout.
Triceps and Forearm Muscles
Just like the straight bar bench press, the cambered bar variation also targets the triceps to a large extent.
Recall that the triceps are the muscles that help extend (straighten) the elbow joint. Considering the amount of elbow bending in the cambered bar bench press, it’s reasonable to say that they’re an extremely hard-working muscle group for this movement.
Lastly, the wrist extensors (forearm muscles) are likely to experience a bit more work than in the traditional bench press. This is because the cambered bar version requires the wrists to be cocked back slightly, held in this position, and counteract any swinging that might occur.
5 Benefits of The Cambered Bar Bench Press
Despite its similarity to the traditional bench press, the cambered bar bench press has 5 unique benefits that can be leveraged to build your bench.
Disclaimer: Remember, this is an advanced exercise. Ensure that you have a spotter present and you avoid training to failure with the cambered bar bench press.
The 5 benefits of the cambered bar bench press are:
• It can enhance your traditional bench press technique
• It can improve your body awareness
• It can be a great exercise for a hypertrophy cycle
• It can keep your attention by adding variety
• It can be excellent for a deload
1. It Can Enhance Your Traditional Bench Press Technique
Since the cambered bar bench press introduces an element of instability, you’ll be more aware of technique deviations during your reps. When you switch back to a traditional barbell, you’ll have an easier time perfecting your technique.
Misgrooving some reps on the cambered bar bench press is inevitable. While this isn’t something to strive for, these technique deviations do provide some benefit.
If your technique slips and a rep immediately feels more difficult, that feedback can be implemented right away for the next rep. Over hundreds of reps, you get rewarded for optimizing your technique.
When you return to doing bench presses with a straight bar, this will play in your favour. Without having to make multiple fine adjustments as the weight plates swing, you can focus on perfecting your bar path instead.
2. It Can Improve Your Traditional Bench Press Strength
Compared to the traditional bench press, the cambered bar adds a much higher level of instability. When you add the straight bar bench press back into your program, the sudden increase instability should allow you to lift more than before.
Recall that as instability increases, force production goes down. This is because it’s difficult to lift a heavy weight when you’re having trouble trying to keep your balance in the first place.
When it’s suddenly easier to balance (like when you swap the cambered bar for a straight bar), you’ll instantly find that you can add more weight to the bar. Because of this effect and the specificity of the cambered bar bench press, many lifters find their bench press strength increases after using the cambered bar for a training cycle.
If you find yourself shaking in the bench press, check out my article on Why Do Your Arms Shake In The Bench Press?
3. It Can Be Great For A Hypertrophy Cycle
A great hypertrophy cycle tends to have these two components: more exercise variation and increased muscle recruitment. By changing the implement used and adding instability, the cambered bar bench press checks both of these boxes.
If you’re getting bored of doing the traditional bench press, consider running a hypertrophy cycle with the cambered bar bench press.
Having to use a new barbell, the increased balance demands, and doing a new exercise altogether provides a unique stimulus — all beneficial things for increasing muscle size.
Another fantastic bench press variation to build your chest is the Larsen Press. Read all about it in my article 6 Reasons To Do Larsen Press (Plus 3 Reasons Not To).
4. It Can Keep Your Attention By Adding Variety
Exercise variety is helpful for providing a new stimulus. However, variety also plays a crucial role in making you want to do your training program.
Unless you’re training for a powerlifting meet or another strength sport, the exact exercises you do should be based on what you enjoy doing in the gym.
While this sounds like utter common sense at best, you’d be shocked at the number of general strength trainees that only do the straight bar back squat, bench press and deadlift — no dumbbell, machine, or specialty bar work.
At the end of the day, your muscles won’t perceive a huge difference whether you do the traditional bench press or cambered bar bench press. Because of this, you should simply choose the exercises that will keep you excited to hit the gym and lift.
5. It Can Be Excellent For A Deload
Remember that deloads are deliberate times in your training (usually 1-3 weeks long) where you reduce your training workload. Specifically, volume (total reps) and/or intensity (% of your 1RM) is lowered.
If you’ve been doing the straight bar bench press for months on end, substituting it for the cambered bar bench press is an excellent idea. The inherent instability and “newness” of the exercise will cause you to temporarily reduce the weight you lift.
In turn, your body will have the chance to recover from the fatigue it’s accumulated over the past few months from hard training.
How To Do The Cambered Bar Bench Press
Having outlined the advantages to the cambered bar bench press, let’s cover the step-by-step instructions next.
Step 1: Set the j-hook height
It’s your choice whether you do this exercise in a bench press station, versus opting for a competition or power rack instead. Each one has its benefits and drawbacks.
Regardless of your choice, you should set the j-hooks (the “claws” that the bar lays across) to the correct height. Most lifters will prefer to have them placed so that they simply have to lock out their elbows to clear the bar from the j-hooks.
When set correctly, the j-hooks will help minimize wasted injury from an inefficient un-rack — letting you focus all of your energy on your reps.
Step 2: Get tight on the bench
Once the bar is set, it’s time to adopt a braced bench press position with your body.
Lay down on the bench and ensure that your eyes are directly under the barbell. Tighten your upper back by squeezing your shoulder blades together, and keep them pinched like this throughout your entire set.
Finally, double-check that your glutes are in contact on the bench and your feet are anchored to the floor to create a solid base.
Step 3: Perform final adjustments
To prepare for the un-rack, roll the barbell toward you without pushing it upwards. This should position it closer to you, without it leaving the j-hooks.
Get your grip on the bar, by placing your hands roughly the same distance apart as you would with a regular barbell. Due to the added thickness of the cambered bar, you might need to angle your wrists back slightly.
Step 4: Un-rack the barbell
When ready, push the barbell upwards by locking out your elbows. Once the bar has settled, slowly begin to bring it into the starting position.
Remember to take your time moving the bar into position, any jarring motions will cause the plates to swing more aggressively.
Step 5: Perform a repetition
Once it’s set in position, begin bending your elbows to lower the bar. After it makes contact on your chest, begin pushing it up and slightly backward toward your face.
As the bar reaches the lockout position, pause for a second to let any swinging dissipate before starting another rep.
Repeat for as many reps as desired.
Frequently Asked Questions
Whenever the cambered bar bench press is brought up, here are the most common questions that I get:
What is the cambered bar bench press good for?
The cambered bar bench press is good for improving your technique, adding variety to your training, and has some strength carryover to the traditional bench press.
What muscles does the reverse grip bench press target?
The cambered bar bench press works your chest muscles, shoulders, triceps, and forearm muscles.
What are the differences between the cambered bar bench press and the traditional bench press?
The cambered bar lets the weight plates hang about 14 inches lower than a standard barbell. This increases the instability of the exercise, making it more difficult to control.
The bar wobbles all over the place when I do the cambered bar bench press, is this normal?
Yes, this is totally normal. As you get more reps in, you’ll develop more skill with this specialty barbell. In the meantime, keep the rest of your body tight and be patient.
Check Out Our Other Bench Press Guides:
- 6 Decline Bench Press Benefits (Plus, 1 Drawback)
- 8 Close Grip Bench Press Benefits (Plus, 1 Drawback)
- Reverse Grip Bench Press: How-To, Benefits, Muscles Worked
- 3-Board Bench Press: Technique, Benefits, How To Program
- Reverse Band Bench Press: How-To, Benefits, Why Do It?
- Dead Bench Press: How To, Benefits, Muscles Worked
- Touch and Go Bench Press: Should You Pause or Not?
- The Slingshot for Bench Press (Complete Guide & Review)
- Isometric Bench Press: How-To, Benefits, & Should You Do It?
The cambered bar bench press is an advanced bench press accessory that uses a cambered squat bar instead of a regular barbell. This special bar allows the weight plates to swing, making it more difficult to control the bar.
Overall, it works the same muscle groups as the traditional bench press but targets the stabilizing muscles slightly more due to the inherent instability.
Powerlifters will find this most useful during hypertrophy cycles and deloads. Non-competitive strength athletes and physique competitors can incorporate the cambered bar bench press once they’ve mastered the bench press fundamentals.
About The Author
Kent Nilson is an online strength coach, residing in Calgary (AB). When he’s not training, coaching, or volunteering on the platform at powerlifting meets, you’ll likely find Kent drinking coffee or enjoying his next Eggs Benedict. Connect with him on Facebook or Instagram.